How to write a business proposal.. that succeeds
Are you thinking about approaching a business associate with a business or partnership proposal?
Want to get your products stocked by a large retail outlet?
Think you’ve got the perfect partnership idea for a company that works in the same space as yours?
Companies wanting to present an idea to a prospective partner or to take advantage of an opportunity in the market often come to us looking for advice on how to present the information. When we look over the work they have already completed, we find that there are three common mistakes almost every small and medium sized business makes – and it always negatively affects their changes of a successful outcome. In fact, many companies confess once that have previously received feedback that matches one of these three mistakes from a document they have submitted:
Mistake #1 – Asking too much
The first big mistake we see are prospects being bombarded with requests for favours. I want XYZ from you. Please stock my product. Buy this package. Ring this number.
But why should they?
These proposals outline all the things that Company X wants from Company Y. Never a thought is given to why on earth Company Y would want to give these things to Company X with nothing in return. It’s completely self-centred. To have any chance of success, the entire proposal often needs to be flipped on its head and rewritten.
Consider what you can offer the prospect to make them want to give you what you want. What element of the proposal could you change to make this a win/win opportunity to Company Y?
You might be asking them to advertise an offer to their mailing list. Why would they do that? What’s in it for them? Or perhaps you’re asking them to buy stocks of your new retail product. What information could make them decide this is a good business decision for them? Can you help summarise the value to them? Is there a chance it will double their revenue? Help them reach a new market? Solve a problem they have been working around?
The pitch needs to focus on their needs and clearly articulate what you think they will get from the opportunity, not simply tell them what you want them to do.
Mistake #2 – Not asking for anything
We also often see documents that outline everything the author knows about their own company, service or product – but unbelievably stop short of telling the reader what they actually want. These documents are a mixture between product brochure, business plan, and letter of introduction. But they lack clarity.
The prospect receiving the proposal is often left a little bewildered, wondering why you have offered them an outline of your Swiss Army knife, plus a SWOT analysis of your top five competitors and a little story about the time you and your dad built a shed and start the company. But why are you telling them this?
If you don’t articulate what you want from the prospect (and quickly), you risk losing their attention. What is it specifically that you want them to do, say or think? Is there a specific action you need from them? Have you clearly articulated this message to them early in the document?
Take a step back and think through exactly what you want from the prospect. In one sentence, summarise the request. This should be used as the basis for your opening paragraph.
Mistake #3 – Taking too long
Another common mistake we see is a 5, 10 or even 20 page proposal with pages and pages of text, but absolutely no indication of what the prospect is being asked to do, until the final page.
Do you really expect your prospect to donate their valuable time to sitting down to read a document this long without any idea why? Ask yourself: would you read this unsolicited, 20 page of densely worded text, for absolutely no reason?
When we receive a proposal like this to edit, the first thing we do is flip it on its head. We go to the final page, look for the ‘ask’ (often hidden in amongst a range of background information I like to call ‘drivel’) and pull it up to the very first paragraph.
Think about exactly what you want to gain from the arrangement. Now think about what the prospect might want, or what you can offer them in return – something that makes them want to give you what you’re seeking. This is your starting point. Within the first paragraph, you should have outlined (at a high level) what you are offering, and what you are asking. Give them a reason to keep reading.
I’m writing to see if you would be interested in XYZ. What I can offer you is ABC. I believe together we can achieve JLK.
I believe [your company] can increase your revenue by $xx or xx% through development of a partnership between [your company] and [my company]. We are prepared to offer DEF in order for you to provide GHI.
The rest of the proposal can then get on with filling in the detail and explaining how you intend to achieve the goals, and what you will bring to the table – but you need to make sure they actually get past the first page before you throw your company history at them.
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